Deaf hawkers in Kakamega find niche in selling eggs, smokies

Christopher Simiyu is deaf and dumb. He turned to selling sausages and eggs at Muliro Gardens in Kakamega town [File]

Mr Christopher Simiyu has proved that one can still lead a fulfilling life even with a hearing and speech impairment. 

The 32-year-old hawker who was born deaf, is among the few disabled but aggressive hawkers in Kakamega town.

Despite his hearing and speech challenges, Mr Simiyu has been hawking boiled eggs, sausages and samosas at Muliro Gardens, a recreation facility at the heart of the town, for two years now.

There are many of hawkers with the same disabilities who are involved in the same trade, and have learnt to cope with their challenges, as they fend for their families.

They position themselves in strategic points at the garden located along the busy Kakamega-Webuye highway from where they attract customers.

“I chose this place because pedestrians can easily see what am selling. I don’t have to call out to them,” Mr Simiyu said.

We are able to have this interview through a sign language interpreter who translates for me what Mr Simiyu is saying.

It is not easy to understand his challenges until you engage him in a conversation.

But residents have nothing but admiration for the hawkers, with many saying they have not had a bad experience with any of them, even in terms of returning the correct change. 

Mr Paul Adunda, who regularly buys from Mr Simiyu said he was amazed by the hawker’s grasp and understanding of the business.

“I like buying from him, he is peaceful and always concentrates on the customer. He sells sausages at Sh30 and an egg at Sh20 which makes it difficult to bargain. I just pay and leave because I don’t understand sign language,” said Mr Adunda.

Other clients interviewed said they prefer buying from the deaf hawkers because they are honest and observe high standards of hygiene while handling foodstuffs.

Mr Simiyu says he struggles like any other Kenyan to create employment for himself despite his disability. Mr Francis Walanda, a vendor with the same disability upgraded from selling eggs to riding a motorcycle. At first, Mr Walanda relied on using a pen and paper for communication with his customers.

He had to write everything down to know the destination of his client and correct charges.

“We can also operate like any other person so long as we learn how to read and write. Many clients prefer my services and I have made many friends through my boda boda business,” Walanda told The Standard.

Being a motorcyclist, Walanda says he concentrates on the side mirrors to ensure his safety on the road since he cannot hear.

“Even though we are deaf, we have to fight for our space by contributing positively to the growth of the economy,” says Mr Walanda.

Like many other people with a hearing disability, Walanda said they were not aware of what was happening when people started wearing masks after Covid-19 pandemic hit the country.

“We could see what was happening and decided to ape what everyone else was doing without understanding its meaning but slowly we have come to appreciate the reason why people wore masks.”

They claimed not to have been reached by IEBC in regard to voter sensitisation, “yet we are potential voters,” said one of the deaf hawkers.

“I don’t understand why I should vote. When I went to a registration centre, I couldn’t get registered because there was no one to translate my language to the officers,” Mr Josephat Otwala told The Standard.

Mr Otwala has petitioned the county government to create awareness and employ sign language interpreters in all facilities especially in hospitals and public offices.

Ms Mary Varaga, a sign language interpreter based in Kakamega said counties in Western must allocate funds in their annual budgets to cater for the training and employment of sign language interpreters across public facilities.